Baranof casts its magic over us on a grey Friday morning in June. It starts with a cut, knife angled under its fin, fish still wriggling on the wooden table as he peels away the meat. Flop-flop, as he flips it over, mouth open in a big gaping O- like it might say something. But all we hear is the wind and the water lapping at the rocks and the boat near the shore. He tosses the bones, tail, head in a bucket by his feet. No more stirring, just scraps.
“Food for the eagles, later,” he says, his hands wet, clumps of guts glistening like jelly.
I’d had trouble reeling it in, my palms sore from their grip on the rod, forearms burning, the feel of its tiny teeth still on the tip of my finger from when I’d held it, thumb packed into its mouth.
“Yelloweye Rockfish,” he’d noted, and we’d admired the bright blood-orange of its body, head spines long like flames on its back, the golden color of its eyes wide-wide-open.
“That’s a good-sized catch” he’d said, tossing it into the hatch, and I listened to it bounce, the heavy thwack of its tail against the hard wood, wrestling for breath.
After, we eat our catch by the fire; potatoes, tomatoes, fresh aioli spread out onto our plates, hot coffee, flames thawing our feet still stuck firm in their boots. I scrape my dish clean, suppress the urge to lick it, tongue craving every last trace, mouth full with the taste of pepper, garlic, butter, wild. Across the beach, I watch the boat nod from the water, white meat swimming in my gut, full now, happy. Clouds wrap the sky in gray, but under the small wooden shelter we glow, warm bits of blueberry crumble still stuck on our lips.
When it’s time, he throws the bloody bucket in the boat, the gentle purr of the motor pulling us farther from shore. We watch him throw the carcass to the eagles, wings back, talons sharp, bowed like hooks. We sit like that-still, drifting- the white-brown body descending, the quick whoosh as it grabs at the small head sinking before soaring back up into the trees, carrying its catch deep out into the wild where it belongs.
Samantha Peterson is a freelance writer and medical biller from Scottsdale, Arizona. She graduated from Arizona State University with a B.A. in English and Creative Writing and is currently in the process of relocating to Juneau, Alaska with her husband and their dog.